“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.”
After months of planning, researching and waiting for the August bank holiday to arrive, we had finally landed in Amsterdam.
The local time was just 9:30am. We’d been up since 4am UK time, travelling to the airport, attempting to stuff all our items in our Easyjet hand luggage, and waiting around in security. In short, we were already exhausted, and we had a full day of sightseeing to do before we could crash into our beds in our hostel.
“This is the longest walk to the passport hall ever,” my friend Helen gasped, as we hopped across travelators, down escalators and through a mass of people towards the passport hall. It was a bank holiday weekend and there were holiday-makers EVERYWHERE.
At last, the passport control gate came into sight. I relaxed and reached down into my bag to locate my passport.
Except, it wasn’t there.
Trust me to win the race to the gates, only to fall at the last hurdle. However, I’m always losing things in my bag, so I wasn’t panicking just yet.
I fumbled around in my bag for a few seconds, but I couldn’t find my passport. My headphones, a magazine…even a map of how to get to my hotel.
But not my passport.
“Helen, wait a minute,” I called ahead to my friend, just as she disappeared through the passport gate and into the baggage lounge.
Great. I was all alone, stuck in limbo, and not a cup of tea in sight. What now?
I hurtled over to the immigration counter, as they were the only staff I could see. I still half believed my passport to be stuck between some books in my carrier bag from my purchase at Southend airport.
“Hi, I think I’ve lost my passport,” I said to the guy, dressed in his scary official uniform and flat cap. I tried to stay calm, but the same thought was whirring through my head. What if I can’t find my passport? Will they just send me back to London on my own?
“You’re joking, right?” the scary-formal man just stared at me, apparently waiting for me to burst into fits of laughter.
“No. No, I’m not joking, and I don’t know where it is.”
“When did you last have it?” he asked.
I thought back. The last time I remember the passport actually being in my hands was as I boarded the plane at Southend airport. I hadn’t seen it since then – and I couldn’t even recall what I had done with it when the flight attendant handed it back to me.
“I remember having it on the plane…” I said. Oh god. I didn’t need to say anything else. We both just knew.
The man looked at me, his eyebrows darting up towards his receding hairline. “Well, you’re going to have to go back to the plane then, aren’t you?”
I grabbed my suitcase and ran back up the escalator, wishing I hadn’t packed all those extra teabags. The stragglers from my flight were still arriving in the passport hall, and must have looked at me with such confusion as I dashed back the way I came.
What if I couldn’t find my passport? What if I couldn’t ever leave and ended up like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, stuck in limbo and left with nothing but peanuts in a can? What if I suddenly developed a nut allergy?
I had no idea how long I had to get back. The shoppers lounge stretched out in front of me like a desert, and there wasn’t a camel or watering hole in sight (apart from all the patisseries. We’ll forget about them for now.)
I threw myself at the first member of airport staff I saw. I suddenly remembered my friend was waiting for me in the baggage hall, and had no idea where I was.
While I explained my situation to the elderly member of staff through punctuated breaths, he rushed me over to the arrivals screen. But just as he was doing so, he stumbled over a passing child who was on his own mini-adventure of the airport while his mother waited in line nearby.
The old man fell onto this hands. The child landed with a bump. It was like a scene out of Fawlty Towers – utterly disastrous, yet farcical.
“You have to go to this gate,” the man pointed out as he got back onto his feet while the small child ran crying to his mum. I felt so awful, so helpless.
“You have 10 minutes to get there, and you have to go through security again.”
I shrieked. “Through security again?!” Luckily he managed to rush me to the front of the queue. I was stopped by the security staff for having a drink on me that I’d bought in the departures lounge in England. I just remember crying, “Take it, I don’t want it!” before grabbing my suitcase and racing for the gate in which I had just arrived at earlier.
The tannoy crackled above my head.
“This is the final boarding call for London Southend.”
I looked over my shoulder. I wasn’t alone. There were others panting, swearing and gasping with me as they tried to board the plane before it returned to England. My plane. With my passport on it.
As I ran down the corridor, a woman shouted out for the last few passengers. I barged up to her. I was out of breath. Panicking.
“I’ve just got off this plane and I’ve left my passport on there,” I managed to breathe out. She was strangely calm. Does this sort of thing happen all the time? I wondered.
The lady signalled for me to wait.
The next few minutes were painstakingly long. I watched as she strolled up the steps into the aircraft and emerged a few minutes later, stopping to talk to a few of the other passengers.
But I couldn’t see anything in her hands.
I started to panic even more. What if my passport had slipped out of my bags and I’d completely lost it in the terminal? Oh, God. I’m Tom Hanks and I’m definitely allergic to nuts. I started to hyperventilate. My tongue was swelling up.
Just as I was beginning to think the worst, the lady walked back into the building with a smile on her face. In her hand, she held a passport – my passport – and my ticket to get through to Amsterdam safely.
“Thank you SO, SO much,” I squealed, almost about to collapse with complete exhaustion. That was surely enough excitement for the weekend, right?
But, as it turns out, it wasn’t. Once I’d finally made my way back into the baggage hall and found my worried friend – by this time with thinning hair and no fingernails due to all the stress of not knowing where I was – we took the train to Amsterdam Central station.
We played it safe, asking for how to get to our hotel, and went to jump on a number 2 tram. Except, just as I got on the tram, the bell rang and the doors closed – leaving Helen on the platform, screaming, “Oh, God…not again.”
I stared at her as the tram rolled off.
“Just stay there and I’ll come back,” I mouthed.
At the next station, I jumped off the tram. But, in my extreme tiredness, I couldn’t work out how to get the tram back to the station. So, I ended up walking all the way back, half kicking myself over what an awful morning we had had, and half laughing over the ridiculousness of it.
By the time I had walked back to the station and found Helen once more, it couldn’t have been much more than 11am.
Whatever Amsterdam had to offer us next, we were ready. But first, a strong cup of tea.